Correction 3:42 a.m. Feb. 15: Fix Men’s Wearhouse spelling.
NORWALK, Conn. – Two veteran Democratic Norwalk legislators appear to have a fight on their hands for re-election – two challengers say the quality of their representation has not been good and they need to be replaced.
Former Norwalk Common Councilman Warren Peña says he is going to run to represent the 140th Assembly District, the seat currently held by the Rev. Bruce Morris. Israel Navarro, a 19-year-old newcomer with presidential aspirations, says he wants the seat held by state Sen. Bob Duff, which includes part of Darien.
Peña had nothing good to say about Morris, citing his “failed leadership” in trying to bring Norwalk Public Schools more funding through the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, his “failed leadership” in regards to Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) and “failed leadership all across the board.”
“This is not a state rep who represents the needs of his constituency,” Peña said.
Morris did not return a request for comment.
Navarro, a 2012 Brien McMahon High School graduate, cited “lack of leadership.”
“I believe it is time to change in the way we as the city see progress,” he said. “I am willing to make progress, I am also willing to bring new change and inspire others.”
“What’s great about America is that everyone has the chance to run for office and express their views,” he said.
Both challengers would be involved in a primary. Navarro would need to get six delegates to vote for him in a state-wide convention, a source close to the Democratic Party said. The source said Navarro is basically a shoe-in to get the votes he needs to force a primary with Duff.
The 140th District house seat candidacy will be decided in a Democratic caucus in Norwalk because the district lies solely within the city, the source said. If the caucus decides on Morris, Peña would need to collect names on a petition to primary.
There is nothing on the state’s website to indicate Peña and Navarro are running. They say they have mailed the paperwork to the state.
Peña said he will begin fundraising this weekend.
“I feel I can represent the constituents of the district in a much better way, in a much more professional way. I think that I can be a better representative for all the diverse cultures that exist in that area,” Peña said.
It’s a majority Latino district, Peña said.
“There’s been a huge demographic shift,” Peña said. “He’s been in that office for eight out of the (past) 10 years and yet he has not changed with the times. He is complacent. He works solely with a select few of what I would like to call tenured politicians. Those tenured politicians have a narrow focus. That narrow focus does not meet the needs of the overall community and constituency in the 140th.”
Or, more succinctly, “There is nothing that Mr. Morris has done out there to help the Latino community at all,” Peña said.
There is nothing on the state’s website to indicate that Morris is going to run for re-election.
“I believe he’s going to run again,” Peña said. “He’s got eight years. You need 10 years to get a pension and I am sure he is worried about his pension first and foremost and not actually representing his constituency. … I expect to get support from all diverse cultures and all people within that community, or within that district.”
Navarro doesn’t think his lack of experience should be a problem.
“I would not consider age as a factor as part of this election. We have to see who is best going to represent you and your interests,” he said. “Because if we are going to go off of age then just off the bat it’s not going to be a fair election or primary at all. Sometimes age truly has no value to what a person can accomplish.”
He was not involved in student government at McMahon but was in the ROTC there. He said plans to go to college, works part time at Men’s Wearhouse and is “a fulltime entrepreneur.”
“I help people in the area of finance,” he said.
You can see Navarro at the 23:39 mark of the video of Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, which is posted on the city’s website. Navarro was there in support of workers who have been laid off from their jobs with Premier Maintenance, who had been cleaning the Maritime Aquarium for years.
Navarro told the council that he might be forced to take action to the defend the rights of Latino workers.
“’Take action” (means) find a way for them to get their jobs back and make sure their kids don’t suffer or anything,” he said Thursday.
His political aspirations go way back. He hopes to run for president someday,
“As everyone told me, (I have been political) since I have been a little kid. They always said I was very active, had a very strong voice. They always say when I run for president they will gladly vote for me,” he said.
“I am extremely excited for Israel,” Peña said. “I think it is time that we start rising up within the Hispanic ranks and the community, in particular some of the young folks that would like to throw their hat in the ring for these particular roles or positions. I am excited. I think he is going to bring a new energy to the entire election cycle in this coming year. “
Peña said he helped recruit Navarro.
“I think he has the will, he has the desire and he’s ready to roll up his sleeves,” he said. “He is a man that is born and raised in this town. He understands that there are a lot of needs citywide and they’re not being met.”